The Shadow Rising Page 23

“You would know better,” Moiraine replied, “if you had taken the advantage of your studies that you should have. You should know better. You want to know how to use the Power, Nynaeve, but you do not care to learn about the Power. Saidin is not saidar. The flows are different, the ways of weaving are different. The bird has a better chance.”

This time Egwene took a turn at diffusing tension. “What is Rand being stubborn about, now?” Nynaeve opened her mouth, and she added, “He can be stubborn as a stone, sometimes.” Nynaeve shut her mouth with a snap; they all knew how true that was.

Moiraine eyed them, considering. At times, Elayne was not sure how much the Aes Sedai trusted them. Or anyone. “He must move,” the Aes Sedai said at last. “Instead he sits here, and the Tairens already begin to lose their fear of him. He sits here, and the longer he sits, doing nothing, the more the Forsaken will see his inaction as a sign of weakness. The Pattern moves and flows; only the dead are still. He must act, or he will die. From a crossbow bolt in his back, or poison in his food, or the Forsaken banding together to rip his soul from his body. He must act or die.” Elayne winced at each danger on her list; that they were real only made it worse.

“And you know what he must do, don't you?” Nynaeve said tightly. “You have this action planned.”

Moiraine nodded. “Would you rather he go haring off alone once more? I dare not risk it. This time he might be dead, or worse, before I find him.”

That was true enough. Rand hardly knew what he was doing. And Elayne was sure Moiraine had no wish to lose the little guidance she still gave him. The little he allowed her to give.

“Will you share your plan for him with us?” Egwene demanded. She was certainly not helping soothe the air now.

“Yes, do,” Elayne said, surprising herself with a cool echo of Egwene's tone. Confrontation was not her way when it could be avoided; her mother always said it was better to guide people than try to hammer them into line.

If their manner irritated Moiraine, she gave no sign of it. “As long as you understand that you must keep it to yourselves. A plan revealed is a plan doomed to fail. Yes, I see you do understand.”

Elayne certainly did; the plan was dangerous, and Moiraine was not sure it would work.

“Sammael is in Illian,” the Aes Sedai went on. “The Tairens are always as ripe for war with Illian as the other way around. They have been killing each other off and on for a thousand years, and they speak of their chance for it as other men speak of the next feastday. I doubt even knowing of Sammael's presence would change that, not with the Dragon Reborn to lead them. Tear will follow Rand eagerly enough in that enterprise, and if he brings Sammael down, he —”

“Light!” Nynaeve exclaimed. “You not only want him to start a war, you want him to seek out one of the Forsaken! No wonder he is being stubborn. He is not a fool, for a man.”

“He must face the Dark One in the end,” Moiraine said calmly. “Do you truly think he can avoid the Forsaken now? As for war, there are wars enough without him, and every one worse than useless.”

“Any war is useless,” Elayne began, then faltered as comprehension suddenly filled her. Sadness and regret had to show on her face, too, but certainly comprehension. Her mother had lectured her often on how a nation was led as well as how it was governed, two very different things, but both necessary. And sometimes things had to be done for both that were worse than unpleasant, although the price of not doing them was worse still.

Moiraine gave her sympathetic look. “It is not always pleasant, is it? Your mother began when you were just old enough to understand, I suppose, teaching you what you will need to rule after her.” Moiraine had grown up in the Royal Palace in Cairhien, not destined to reign, but related to the ruling family and no doubt overhearing the same lectures. “Yet sometimes it seems ignorance would be better, to be a farm woman knowing nothing beyond the boundaries of her fields.”

“More riddles?” Nynaeve said contemptuously. “War used to be something I heard about from peddlers, something far away that I didn't really understand. I know what it is, now. Men killing men. Men behaving like animals, reduced to animals. Villages burned, farms and fields burned. Hunger, disease and death, for the innocent as the guilty. What makes this war of yours better, Moiraine? What makes it cleaner?”

“Elayne?” Moiraine said quietly.

She shook her head — she did not want to be the one to explain this — but she was not sure even her mother sitting on the Lion Throne could have kept silent under Moiraine's compelling, darkeyed stare. “War will come whether Rand begins it or not,” she said reluctantly. Egwene stepped back a pace, staring at her in disbelief no sharper than that on Nynaeve's face; the incredulity faded from both women as she continued. “The Forsaken will not stand idly and wait. Sammael cannot be the only one to have seized a nation's reins, just the lone one we know. They will come after Rand eventually, in their own persons perhaps, but certainly with whatever armies they command. And the nations that are free of the Forsaken? How many will cry glory to the Dragon banner and follow him to Tarmon Gai'don, and how many will convince themselves the fall of the Stone is a lie and Rand only another false Dragon who must be put down, a false Dragon perhaps strong enough to threaten them if they do not move against him first? One way or another, war will come.” She cut off sharply. There was more to it, but she could not, would not, tell them that part.

Moiraine was not so reticent. “Very good,” she said, nodding, “yet incomplete.” The look she gave Elayne said she knew Elayne had left out what she had on purpose. Hands folded calmly at her waist, she addressed Nynaeve and Egwene. "Nothing makes this war better, or cleaner. Except that it will cement the Tairens to him, and the Illianers will end up following him just as the Tairens do now. How could they not, once the Dragon banner flies over Illian? Just the news of his victory might decide the wars in Tarabon and Arad Doman in his favor; there are wars ended for you.

“In one stroke he will make himself so strong in terms of men and swords that only a coalition of every remaining nation from here to the Blight can defeat him, and with the same blow he shows the Forsaken that he is not a plump partridge on a limb for the netting. That will make them wary, and buy him time to learn to use his strength. He must move first, be the hammer, not the nail.” The Aes Sedai grimaced slightly, a hint of her earlier anger marring her calm. “He must move first. And what does he do? He reads. Reads himself into deeper trouble.”

Nynaeve looked shaken, as if she could see all the battles and death; Egwene's dark eyes were large with horrified understanding. Their faces made Elayne shiver. One had watched Rand grow up, the other had grown up with him. And now they saw him starting wars. Not the Dragon Reborn, but Rand al'Thor.

Egwene struggled visibly, latching onto the smallest part, the most inconsequential, of what Moiraine had said. “How can reading put him in trouble?”

“He has decided to find out for himself what the Prophecies of the Dragon say.” Moiraine's face remained cool and smooth, but suddenly she sounded almost as tired as Elayne felt. "They may have been proscribed in Tear, but the Chief Librarian had nine different translations in a locked chest. Rand has them all, now. I pointed out the verse that applies here, and he quoted it to me, from an old Kandori translation.

"'Power of the Shadow made human flesh,

wakened to turmoil, strife and ruin.

The Reborn One, marked and bleeding,

dances the sword in dreams and mist,

chains the Shadowsworn to his will,

from the city, lost and forsaken,

leads the spears to war once more,

breaks the spears and makes them see,

truth long hidden in the ancient dream.'"

She grimaced. “It applies to this as well as it does to anything. Illian under Sammael is surely a forsaken city. Lead the Tairen spears to war, chain Sammael, and he has fulfilled the verse. The ancient dream of the Dragon Reborn. But he will not see it. He even has a copy in the Old Tongue, as if he understood two words. He runs after shadows, and Sammael, or Rahvin, or Lanfear may have him by the throat before I can convince him of his mistake.”

“He is desperate.” Nynaeve's gentle tone was not for Moiraine, Elayne was sure, but for Rand. “Desperate and trying to find his way.”

“So am I desperate,” Moiraine said firmly. “I have dedicated my life to finding him, and I will not let him fail if I can prevent it. I am almost desperate enough to —” She broke off, pursing her lips. “Let it be enough that I will do what I must.”

“But it isn't enough,” Egwene said sharply. “What is it you'll do?”

“You have other matters to concern you,” the Aes Sedai said. “The Black Ajah —”

“No!” Elayne's voice was knifeedged and commanding, her knuckles a hard white where she gripped her soft blue skirts. “You keep many secrets, Moiraine, but tell us this. What do you mean to do to him?” An image flashed in her mind of seizing Moiraine and shaking the truth out of her if need be.

“Do to him? Nothing. Oh, very well. There is no reason you should not know. You have seen what the Tairens call the Great Holding?”

Oddly for a people that feared the Power so, the Tairens held in the Stone a collection of objects connected to the Power second only to that in the White Tower. Elayne, for one, thought it was because they had been forced to guard Callandor so long, whether they wanted or not. Even the Sword That Is Not a Sword might seem less than what it was when it was one among many. But the Tairens had never been able to make themselves display their prizes. The Great Holding was kept in a filthy series of crowded rooms buried even deeper than the dungeons. When Elayne had first seen them the locks on the doors had long since rusted shut, where the doors had not simply collapsed from dry rot.

“We spent an entire day down there,” Nynaeve said. “To see if Liandrin and her friends took anything. I don't think they did. Everything was buried in dust and mold. It will take ten riverboats to transport all of it to the Tower. Perhaps they can make some sense of it there; I surely could not.” The temptation to prod Moiraine was apparently too great to avoid, for she added, “You would know all this if you had given us a little more of your time.”

Moiraine took no notice. She seemed to be looking inward, examining her own thoughts, and she spoke almost to herself. “There is one particular ter'angreal in the Holding, a thing like a redstone doorframe, subtly twisted to the eye. If I cannot make him reach some decision, I may have to step through.” The small blue stone on her forehead trembled, sparkling. Apparently she was not eager to take that step.

At the mention of ter'angreal, Egwene instinctively touched the bodice of her dress. She had sewn a small pocket there herself, to hide the stone ring it now held. That ring was a ter'angreal, powerful in its way if small, and Elayne was one of only three women who knew she had it. Moiraine

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